Saturday, November 19 is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. If you are a survivor of suicide loss, find local healing gatherings all over the world or to sign up to view online, visit the AFSP.org HERE. If you are struggling, please contact the suicide prevention lifeline at 800.273.8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
I just have to introduce today’s guest writer. Jennifer and I *met* over Twitter many months ago while we were reaching out for support after the losses of our friends to suicide. Then by good fortune, she traveled to the Seattle area and we met in person a few months ago. We spent 3 hours together and the time flew by as we talked deeply about the loss of our friends and our own grieving processes. I asked her to write for today because I believe she has so much insight and compassion for those of us who have lost loved ones to suicide. Thank you Jennifer so much for being you.
There are things in our lives that fundamentally change who we are, how we think, and how we see the world. If you’d asked me last September to name those events, I might have mentioned having a brain tumor, or maybe meeting certain people, or the day I moved to San Francisco – I could probably think of other candidates for mention. But October 1, 2010 was the day my life really changed forever – it was the day I lost one of my best friends to suicide. It was a shock – she’d been struggling with post partum depression but she hadn’t told me about it. One day I was trying to figure out a date to go see her, the next she was gone. Gone. Just like that.
And just like that I was a “suicide survivor.” In some ways I struggle with the term suicide survivor – until the last couple of months I wasn’t sure I was going to survive this. I wasn’t sure I could make sense of a world without Kristi – wasn’t sure I could make sense of a world that couldn’t keep Kristi. It was almost like I could see the foundation of the last 37 years of my life cracking into tiny pieces. My heart literally hurt. She was free and light and brilliant and fun and so good. And what is wrong with a world, with a country, that can put a man on the moon but can’t stop suicide? It’s been just over a year now and I can finally breathe deeply in confidence that I am a survivor.
I’m not sure I can adequately explain what a suicide survivor might experience. There’s overwhelming guilt – I could have done more, I should have seen it, what if I’d done this, maybe I could have done that. The guilt just doesn’t stop. There are no answers, no doctor to say s/he’d done all s/he could and yet there are an infinite number of possibilities of things I could have done or said to change the outcome. There might be anger – how could you leave me, why did you do this, why did you choose this. Certainly abandonment, fear, isolation, disbelief, shame, confusion, shock. (I remember in the first month after her passing I was convinced that she’d been put in the witness protection program – just the thought of her still being in the world was a comfort.)
I am not a religious person but Kristi’s suicide left me in somewhat of a crisis of faith. For me it was less how could God let this happen and more how could we as a society, a world, a humanity allow suicide to continue. It turns out, people don’t really want to talk about suicide – they avert their eyes when you mention it or maybe they just don’t bring up the passing of your loved one at all. For some the belief is that suicide is a choice and by “choosing” suicide you have abandoned your loved ones, given up, not fought hard enough, and been selfish. I think people often forget that a suicidal mind is a mind in crisis – it isn’t like the person made a list of pros and cons in order to come to a rational decision. I never felt like Kristi made a rational choice – I know Kristi well enough to know that she wasn’t being selfish or giving up – she was tired and she was in pain. Her mind was telling her lies and there was no light at the end of the tunnel this time.
All I wanted to do in those first 4-5 months was talk about suicide. What did it mean for the world that suicide is still so prevalent? What did it mean that our inaction allows bullies to drive children to see death as their only way out? What did it mean that our maternity system so fails to recognize postpartum depression that babies are left motherless? Or that we no longer have a village of support to help ease the learning curve of being a first time mom? How can we, as a society, as a country, allow suicide to continue? And why can’t we just talk about it?
Surviving the loss of a loved one to suicide is the hardest, most confusing thing I’ve ever experienced. I question everything. I came home one day several months after Kristi’s death and I saw my husband’s car but not him. I looked all over the house and the yard, I got more and more frantic yelling his name. I finally got in the car to drive around and found him walking the dog about a block away. I was sure he’d died by suicide. Sure. I am putting the pieces of my heart back together but like a shattered vase, it’s never going to be the same.